Are we there yet?

Discussion bearing same provocative title took place on 19th of October as a first of online events series held by Oxford Archaeological Society, this academic year. From a position of Africanist, Professor Shadreck Chirikure presented his view on the current relationship between archaeology, local communities and their part on knowledge production in the context of Africa as post-colony.

Most archaeologists are concerned with the things that are of little importance for indigenous communities and archaeology, therefore, seems to be irrelevant to them. This mutual misunderstanding gave rise to the question: how might we connect the past to the present? Professor Chirikure presented two villages from southern Africa in which the presence of vast archaeological finds such as tools and craft equipment were used to improve the lives of locals.

In the first case, people were travelling 10 km to access the closest grinding mill but through excavation, season-specific strategies of past were retrieved and put again into use. The second village could not fully capitalize on its favourable position for tourism (located near the national park). Things changed when archaeological remains of iron from the village were analysed at University of Cape Town and enlightened process of iron smelting. This, in turn, led to the re-enactment of tradition by the community and its execution in presence of tourist is increasing popularity of the village.

On the contrary, Professor Chirikure stressed out how ethnographically widely used concept “rainmaking” is an inappropriate label, the true meaning of which was lost in translation. In his view, it is mainly caused by insufficient cooperation between authors who are publishing on African topics and natives. Additionally, both aforementioned examples are still more of a rarity than common practice in Africa. Because of that, more radical steps are necessary in form of community engagement and connection talks to reach the rhetorical “there” from the opening question.

Series of talks organised by OAS will be held also this term, starting with a presentation titled "Early colonisation of Americas" on the first of February. Details can be found on our website or Facebook page.

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